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San Antonio and the Future of the SBC

I was not in San Antonio this year. I wanted to be there, and as recently as March I still had a room reserved. But other responsibilities took priority and I needed to stay home. But like perhaps many of you, I did follow the convention via the live feed on the internet. I read the pertinent blogs that discussed all the issues. I had friends in Texas who were emailing, calling, and text-messaging updates back to me. So I am very familiar with much of what happened, though I admit my insights are limited. Still, I want to offer my thoughts about the San Antonio convention and the future of the SBC. 

First, the much-discussed resolution on the BF&M is not very important. I listened to the debate. I read the blogs. I spoke with eye-witnesses. I read the statement for myself. There is absolutely, positively more than one way to interpret the resolution. Some people voted for it because they thought they were simply reaffirming the importance of the BF&M. Some people voted for it because they thought they were sending a message to the trustees at IMB and Southwestern. Some people did not vote for it because they thought it was a step toward making the confession a “creed.” Others did not vote for it because Dwight McKissic spoke in favor of it. Confusion reigns because the resolution was worded in such a way that both Bart Barber and Wade Burleson could read it and claim victory. So it is not very important, whatever any given individual may think happened when the messengers cast their votes. 

Second, for the second year in a row the convention rejected Tom Ascol’s proposed resolution on integrity in church membership. In other words, for the second year in a row Southern Baptists publicly genuflected to the Religious Right but refused to go on record as Baptists. It is amazing to me that this resolution continues to be stifled every year. Last year it was stifled because the chair of the resolutions committee claimed that inactive church members make some of our best prospects for evangelism. This year the committee claimed that the resolution is a threat to local church autonomy, which is absurd because none of the scads of other resolutions that encourage churches about what to do are perceived as such a threat. Malcolm Yarnell argued against the resolution because it did not mention the importance of believer's baptism by immersion alone, which is a reasonably concern to be sure. At the same time one must wonder if such an affirmation is necessary in a resolution put before a body that is already 100% pre-committed to believer’s baptism by immersion. 

I have another theory about this resolution. It is not a nice theory. Some readers may be perturbed that I even suggest it. But I think it is a legitimate possibility. I think this resolution got no traction because Tom Ascol is the one proposing it. I think, just maybe, the hesitancy to deal with this resolution is at least in part a reflection of an anti-Calvinist (or at least anti-Founders) bias among many Southern Baptists. If I am right, it is a shame that we would rather go on record as being sub-Baptist than affirm a good resolution just because many disagree with the personal soteriological convictions of the man proposing the resolution. Serious question, asked in good faith: would this resolution have been killed if it had been proposed by Johnny Hunt or Steve Gaines? 

Third, it seems clear to me that there is a division among members of the Great Commission Council and other SBC leaders over the future vision of the convention. I know that some of you will be irked that I am posting that publicly on this blog, but I think it is self-evident and others have already alluded to it. For the record, I do not think this is a great divide; our agency heads and leading pastors and theologians agree on much more than they disagree. But I think there is a difference in priorities, or at least nuance. I do not think that the “dissenters” have created this difference of opinion among SBC leaders, but I do think that the blogosphere has created an atmosphere of debate in the convention that has allowed previously held differences in perspective among the “status quo” to become more public. Perhaps the SBC is not a two-party system after all. 

Finally, SBC politics in general and San Antonio in particular seems to be creating a shift in the blogosphere. Bart Barber became much more political in the weeks leading up to the convention, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others. Timmy Brister blogged about the convention much less, though admittedly he was already moving in that direction, just as Steve McCoy, Joe Thorn, and Kevin Bussey did earlier in the year. Wes Kenney seemed to move closer to the positions held by those considered to be status quo. Les Puryear seemed to move closer to the positions held by those considered to be dissenters. Just this morning Marty Duren announced he was disbanding SBC Outpost, arguably the most influential blog in the SBC. Art Rogers announced that he was changing the emphasis on his blog and would be blogging less about the convention. Wade Burleson and Ben Cole appear to be staying on their earlier course, though it remains to be seen what they have planned for the coming days. Jeremy Green and Robin Foster haven’t budged either. It will be interesting to see what happens on SBC blogs in the coming year. 

I think it is apparent that the SBC is at something of a crossroads. There are burning questions about ecclesiology, confessionalism, miraculous gifts, and Calvinism. All of these are important issues. But finding agreement (or peace) on any of the above issues will not bring renewal to the SBC. Neither will overhauling the bureaucracy, live-blogging conventions, holding more conferences, or reigning in allegedly rogue trustee boards. Many of these things are helpful, but none of them are the solution to our biggest problem. 

If the SBC is to have a viable future in God’s economy, then we must recover the gospel in our local churches. We must repent of our programmatic idolatry and recommit to being a gospel presence in our communities and to the uttermost parts of the earth. We must be willing to hold forth the words of life to our culture and not just condemn it for its moral ills. We must be willing to be self-critical. We must be willing to admit that we do have problems that more baptisms will not solve. We must be willing to quit labeling those with whom we disagree as “fundamentalists” or “liberals,” no matter how much it helps to further our personal agendas. In fact, we must be willing to jettison our personal agendas. Our only agenda should be the gospel, presented with what I call a “Baptist twist,” by which I mean our Baptist understanding that the gospel is best lived out in the context of local bodies of regenerate, baptized believers sold out to the lordship of Christ and committed to the Great Commission. 

Brothers and sisters, the only hope the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have for real revival is a gospel revolution. Some will say we do not need it because we are not liberals or because we still baptize 350,000 toddlers, previously immersed believers with tender consciences, and transferring Methodists and Presbyterians every year. Some will oppose it because we may have to change the way we do some things. Some will think I am blowing smoke and that the real problem(s) in the SBC is one of the above-mentioned skirmishes. But I’m not buying it, and neither should you. I hope you will join me in praying that God will bring real revival to the SBC.